Filling Terry Francona's Shoes: 8 Possibilities for Next Boston Red Sox Manage
Just as the initial shock of Terry Francona's departure as Red Sox manager began to subside, the turmoil started again with the news of Theo Epstein’s potential hiring by the Chicago Cubs. Both of these departures come amidst a media feeding frenzy as more details about the alleged problems in the clubhouse are leaked by anonymous sources.
No matter how that all shakes out, the Red Sox are still faced with the problem of hiring a new on-field manager. And throwing Francona under the bus (as management seems to be doing) will not make that quest any easier.
National pundits have bandied well-known names such as Bobby Valentine, Joe Torre and even Tony LaRussa. The New England press take seems to favor lesser-known individuals, primarily those with success at the minor league level.
But what about the elephant in the room?
If a clubhouse problem—especially among veteran pitchers—led to Francona’s inability to get the effort and results desired, how will that problem be solved by bringing in a no-name newcomer with even less street cred or clout than Francona?
I tested this theory with former Red Sox pitcher Dick Drago.
He told me, “Really strong teams, like the Big Red Machine in Cincinnati and even the Red Sox a few years ago had veteran players who stood up and were not afraid to call someone out—rookie or veteran—if he was not pulling his weight.”
Drago added, "If the players did not step up, and there is a problem in the clubhouse, then they need a manager who was a former major league player with enough stature to at least get the attention of everyone in the clubhouse.”
I get his point; it’s similar to the military. Those of us going into combat felt better if those leading us had already experienced a taste of battle.
The Arizona Diamondbacks appear to have found such an individual in Kirk Gibson, who commands automatic respect for the way he played the game himself. Gibson also surrounded himself with a coaching staff made up of former players, such as Don Baylor, Alan Trammell, Matt Williams, Eric Young and Ian Kennedy who could certainly provide clubhouse leadership as well as a link between players and management.
Pursuing this line of reasoning, we went through a list of former players to identify those who might be able to bridge a similar gap in Beantown. We eliminated candidates with known hair-trigger tempers, as well as a few who might see themselves as a bigger story than the team. We also eliminated some (like Tony Gwynn, Carlton Fisk and Robin Yount) whom we believed would be impossible to pry away from their current pursuits.)
Here are eight possibilities who deserve a look, in inverse order of ranking:
8. Bob Brenly, Cubs Broadcaster and TBS Analyst
The former San Francisco Giants catcher is best known for upsetting the Yankees in the 2001 World Series as manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks. He retired as a player in 1989, and after several years as a coach for the Giants, he became a baseball analyst for Fox in 1996.
At the end of the 2000 season, he was named manager of the Diamondbacks and won a World Series in his first year at the helm. By mid-2004, however, the D-backs had plummeted in the standings and Brenly lost his job. He quickly returned to broadcasting as a TV color analyst for the Chicago Cubs.
He has stayed in the national eye in recent years as a Division Series analyst for TBS, partnering with Dick Stockton. His name was also mentioned in several managerial searches in 2008 and 2009. According to Melissa Isaacson of ESPNChicago.com, “Brenly's players, such as former Cub Luis Gonzalez, said he always knew what buttons to push and was a great motivator.”
Even so, he has the weakest resume as a player of anyone on this list. His clout as a broadcaster may or may not carry weight with veteran players, so we have ranked him as No. 8.
7. Dave Martinez, Bench Coach, Tampa Bay Rays
Known as a strong defensive outfielder, Martinez played more than 1,900 games over 16 seasons starting in 1986. He was one of the original Rays (1998), collecting the first hit in franchise history in their inaugural game. He was the starting right fielder for their first three seasons.
He served as a spring training coach for the Rays in 2006 and 2007, and filled in as first base coach the first three weeks of the 2007 regular season. Rays manager Joe Maddon named him the bench coach at the end of that season.
Martinez, who also had a couple of very good seasons with the White Sox in the mid 1990s, was rumored to have been a front runner for the recent Pale Hose managerial position that eventually went to Robin Ventura. This is not the first time he’s been linked to a managerial opening, and baseball insiders feel it’s only a matter of time before he gets the nod.
There is also some question as to whether or not his body of work as a player makes him a top candidate under the conditions we have established. However, there is no doubt that Maddon would be sorry to lose him. Marc Topkin, St. Petersburg Times Staff Writer, asked Maddon about Martinez amidst the rumors that the bench coach was on his way to Chicago.
Maddon said, “Because [of] the job that he does, he really takes a lot off of my plate on a daily basis. He's grown into that position extremely well. He understands it, he gets it, he does it as good as anybody out there right now…So it would be a big loss for us.”
6. Alan Trammell, Bench Coach, Arizona Diamondbacks
A six-time All-Star during his 20-year playing career with the Detroit Tigers, Trammell is now the bench coach for his former teammate Kirk Gibson.
He played his entire career with the Tigers, highlighted by a World Series championship in 1984 and an AL East division championship in 1987.
A four-time Gold Glove winner, he was also the 1984 World Series MVP. Trammell won three Silver Slugger awards and was considered to be one of the best-hitting shortstops of his era, batting over .300 seven times.
After retirement, Trammell coached for Detroit (1999), the San Diego Padres (2000–2002), and managed the Tigers (2003–2005). Unfortunately, the Tigers set records for futility during those years, and he was replaced as manager in 2005. Trammell turned down an offer to stay with the Tigers as a special assistant. He joined the Chicago Cubs as a bench coach for the 2007 season, but was passed over for the Cubs' managerial position when Lou Piniella retired midway through the 2010 season.
Working in his favor is an impressive 12-year coaching and baseball operations resume, including experience in player instruction and scouting. He has been a hitting coach, first base coach and bench coach. Working against him is a woeful 186-300 record as manager of the Tigers from 2003-05.
5. Tony Pena, Bench Coach, New York Yankees
A five-time National League All-Star catcher, Pena has been a coach and catching instructor for the Yankees for the past six years. He was first base coach from 2006-08 and has been the bench coach for the past three years. One attraction for the Red Sox should be the fact that since Pena joined the staff, Yankees catchers have caught more potential base stealers than any other team.
In his 18-year playing career, Pena won four Gold Glove Awards. He ranks fifth all-time with 1,950 games behind the plate. He also played for the Red Sox from 1990 to 1993.
When he retired in 1998, he began his coaching career as coordinator of Dominican Operations for the White Sox, leading the Aguilas team to the Caribbean Series title. From 1999-2001, he was manager of Triple-A New Orleans.
Pena began his major league coaching career in 2002 as the bench coach for the Houston Astros. Only a month into the season, he was hired to manage the Kansas City Royals. The Baseball Writers' Association of America, Sporting News and Sports Illustrated all honored him as the 2003 American League "Manager of the Year."
4. Tim Wallach, Third Base Coach, Los Angeles Dodgers
Named as Baseball America's "Best Manager Prospect” in 2009, Wallach has made it clear that he wants to fulfill that promise. Although considered for the top jobs in Toronto and Milwaukee last year, nothing materialized, and he returned to the Dodgers as third base coach in 2011.
Wallach managed the Class AAA Albuquerque Isotopes in the Dodgers system for two seasons. In 2009, after a three-year absence from the game, Wallach led them to a franchise-record 80 wins and was named 2009 Pacific Coast League Manager of the Year.
Third baseman Wallach played 17 seasons from 1980 to 1996 and was a five-time NL All-Star with Montreal. He earned three Gold Glove Awards, two Silver Slugger Awards and is Montreal/Washington's all-time franchise leader in a number of offensive categories.
He served as the Dodgers' hitting coach in 2004 and 2005, having previously been hitting coach for the Dodgers' Single-A San Bernardino club in 1997 and 1998. Wallach also managed San Bernardino for the final two and a half months of the 1998 campaign. He coached at his alma mater Cal State Fullerton in 2000, then managed Single-A Rancho Cucamonga in the Angels' organization in 2001.
3. Sandy Alomar Jr., Bench Coach, Cleveland Indians
One of the most popular players in the history of the Cleveland Indians, Alomar was the acknowledged field leader on teams that won five AL League Central titles and two AL Pennants from 1995-99. He was the 1990 AL Rookie of the Year and won a Gold Glove Award the same year.
The six-time All-Star and 1997 All-Star Game MVP concluded his 20-year playing career with the New York Mets in 2007, and for the next two years, he served as a catching instructor for the Mets.
Sandy returned to Cleveland as first base coach at the end of 2009, where he is also respected as a strong mentor of young catchers.
Although he has never managed at any level, he was reportedly a finalist for Blue Jays managerial job that went to former Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell.
2. Mike Lowell
While his lack of management and coaching experience might work against him, the former third baseman and 2007 World Series MVP was in the Red Sox clubhouse as recently as the 2010 season. If motivation problems exist with certain veterans, he may be the ideal person to solve that problem.
In a Sept. 30 interview on the Dan Le Batard Show (790AM in Miami), Lowell was outspoken about the importance of clubhouse chemistry.
“It absolutely does affect wins and losses”, he said. “If times get tough and everyone’s on their own page, that certainly can be the difference in at least a couple of games,” he concluded.
Since Lowell is already loved by Red Sox Nation and respected by the local press, he already has a leg up on two obstacles that other candidates would still have to address. His class and dignity both on and off the field might also earn him a longer honeymoon period—and thus more time to fix what needs to be fixed. Another element in his favor is the fact that he is a cancer survivor, which has put the game of baseball in perspective for him.
Is he ready to come back to the grind of baseball?
Speaking with NESN’s Tom Caron and Nick Cafardo on Red Sox First Pitch on July 22. Lowell acknowledged he was torn between missing baseball and spending a summer with his family for the first time in 22 years. Cafardo specifically asked if he would consider managing; Lowell deflected the question, saying he “wasn’t ready” yet to put in the time required.
Watching the interview, however, there is little doubt that he would at least consider coming back to help this team, one that he describes as “supremely talented” and of “world championship caliber”.
Another thing in favor of a Lowell candidacy is that he had his hip repaired in May, and that injury would no longer be an obstacle.
As a four-time All-Star, a Gold Glove winner and an acknowledged clubhouse leader, Lowell certainly has the playing chops to do the job. While some may view him only as the necessary throw-in on the Josh Beckett deal, Lowell’s career fielding average of .974 is now the highest all-time for a third baseman, besting the previous record of .971 held by Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson.
1. Ryne Sandberg. Manager, Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs (AAA)
This Chicago Cubs Hall of Famer, now in the Phillies organization, managed Triple-A Lehigh Valley to the International League finals this season—a 22-win improvement over 2010.
According to a Sept. 17 article by the Chicago Tribune’s Phil Rogers, Phillies' general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. credits Sandberg with turning around a losing culture.
"The players really liked and enjoyed playing for him. They were motivated to play for him,'' said Amaro.
“Ryno” certainly has the chops to get attention in the clubhouse. One of the best second basemen in baseball history, he won nine consecutive Gold Gloves from 1983 to 1991. He also made 10 consecutive All-Star appearances, and his career fielding percentage of .989 is the best ever for a second baseman. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2005.
After four years of paying his dues as a minor league manager, including two first place finishes with the Iowa Cubs, he was bitterly disappointed when now-fired GM Jim Hendry hired Mike Quade in 2010 as manager of the Cubs. Sandberg left the organization and is now the heir-apparent to Charlie Manuel for the Phillies top field job. The Red Sox could step in and grab him now.